GOOD MORNING: These are lonelier days for Nancy Reagan. The Reagans’ beloved King Charles Spaniel, Rex, has died. “It’s really terrible,” Nancy told me, as she recalled the days in the White House when Rex was the darling of the Presidential staff. Rex patrolled the West Wing corridors and could often be found guarding the Oval Office door when staff and visitors were escorted in to see the President. Rex was as familiar a White House dog as those of his Presidential predecessors — and those who followed with new administrations. He was given to the Reagans by Bill Buckley as a Christmas present on Dec. 6, 1985. After leaving the White House, Rex lived with the Reagans in Bel Air. Nancy told me she had taken Rex to the vet’s over the weekend, but his condition had worsened so dramatically that Nancy was told it was best to put him to sleep. “I held him while they gave him that shot,” said Nancy. “It was very hard for me to take that — especially in my frame of mind.” She wanted Rex to be buried at the Reagans’ former Rancho del Cielo, where previous Reagan pet (dogs and horses) members of the family are buried. “I wanted to go with him (to the ranch),” said Nancy, “but I couldn’t bear seeing the ranch again. So they did it for me.” (The ranch is now owned by the Young Americans Foundation.) Nancy recently spent a few days in the East with friends. It was on her doctors’ orders, she said, as a respite from the daily heartache of Ronnie’s Alzheimer condition. “It’s amazing how many people we now find who have it,” she said. “I believe, in the past, people were embarrassed to divulge it.” But Reagan’s heartbreaking, handwritten letter, which he delivered Dec. 5, 1994, perhaps prolonged the hope of others and accelerated research to help find a cure/preventative. “And don’t forget about colon cancer,” she reminded of the President’s admission of his surgery and his urging men to have regular examinations. As did Nancy, about women’s breast cancer prevention, early detection and examination. In that speech four years ago, Reagan explained why he made the public revelation of his disease. And in these days of deceit, double-talk and distortion of truths from the White House, I am reminded of Ronald Reagan’s honesty on that day in ’94. He said, “Upon learning of this news (Alzheimer’s disease), Nancy and I had to decide whether as private citizens we would keep this a private matter or whether we would make this news known in a public way.” He further said, “In the past Nancy suffered from breast cancer and I had my cancer surgeries. We found through our open disclosures we were able to raise public awareness. We were happy that as a result many more people underwent testing. They were treated in early stages and able to return to normal healthy lives. So now we feel it is important to share it with you. In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition. Perhaps it will encourage a clearer understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it.” Four year ago he told America, “Unfortunately, as Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden. I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience. When the time comes, I am confident that with your help she will face it with faith and courage. In closing,” he said, “let me thank you, the American people for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your President. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future. I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America, there will always be a bright dawn ahead.” Let us hope so. Meanwhile, these are dim days for President Reagan and Nancy and shady ones for the present occupant of the White House.
THE WHITE HOUSE RETURN on Dec. 6 for Shirley Temple, a Kennedy Center Honoree, will be filled with memories. Shirley recalled for me she had an office there in 1976-77 when she was Chief of Protocol for President Ford. The last time Temple visited the White House was during the tenure of President Bush; she has never met the Clintons. No matter how many times she has visited the White House, Temple admits, “I’d get goose flesh.” Temple will have a real homecoming on Saturday, Dec. 5, when the honorees receive their Kennedy Center medals and accolades at the State Dept. dinner. She had offices in that building when she was our ambassador to Ghana and later to the former Czechoslovakia. Temple said she has watched the Kennedy Center Honors show “for years”; this year, “When I got ‘that’ letter from the Kennedy Center, I started to grin — and I grinned all day!” It’s about time that Shirley Temple, a credit to the creative community — and to the country — received this honor … Jerry Seinfeld, back in L.A., dined with Garry Shandling at Drai’s … Helen Wagner, holding a record for longevity as “Nancy” on CBS’ “As The World Turns,” celebrates her 80th birthday Thursday … With “Titanic” now sailing forth on record-breaking video seas, Frances Fisher recalls she and other cast members were asked to work for one-fourth their regular salaries upfront — agreeing to take a deferment on the remainder when the film either reached $165 million domestic, or $350 million overseas. “And the week Variety printed it reached $165 million, Paramount sent me all the remaining money!” P.S. she says she’d work again for Jim Cameron “In a second!”